Republican Diaz running as county connector
First of two parts. Tuesday, we look at John Martin.
Aron Diaz is running as the man who can connect Garfield County residents and partners with the resources they need.
Challenging 20-year incumbent Commissioner John Martin in the June 28 Republican primary, Diaz brings experience from federal, state and local governments. He’s worked on numerous campaigns, worked for state and federal elected representatives and serves on the Silt Board of Trustees.
The county is where all that comes together, Diaz said — county commissioners have the opportunity to work in all those realms for the betterment of your community.
“In my personal beliefs, it’s at the local level where government should be most active,” as opposed to pushing more and more services to the state and federal levels.
Garfield County now has a laissez-faire approach and should become more proactive to meet the needs of its residents, businesses and other governmental entities, he argued.
Diaz uses an analogy of a person who’s building a house. One neighbor says, “Let me know when you’re putting the roof on and I’ll come help you put up the shingles.”
Another neighbor is proactive and offers contacts with a great architect, offers to help buy construction material in bulk, offers a contact with the city to streamline the permitting process. That’s the neighbor he says he will be as commissioner.
“They can both say they helped you build your house, but one is actually helping, and the other said ‘I’ll come in at the end.’”
He points to several municipal projects as examples.
Silt is trying to develop a trail between the town and Coal Ridge High School and is working on developing a downtown core to draw businesses. But the county has been lackadaisical about lending its political pull, he said.
The same has been true for the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, a state wildfire research center at Garfield County’s airport in Rifle, he said. Rifle did most of the legwork, and the county chipped in, “but look where they’re at now.”
Though the city wants to build on that success and is examining how to pay for a study of what type of businesses to target, there’s still no plan to target particular businesses,
“We’ve got to make solid pitches to these [businesses],” Diaz said.
He recalled a cautionary tale: In New Castle, there was talk about targeting a tech company to move in. Garfield County and the municipalities have been relying on the natural beauty and recreation opportunities to draw businesses in, but this particular business had other needs.
It needed to run fiber optic cable for a block. That would cost about $100,000, but no would step up to pay for it.
The city of Longmont did and kept that business there, said Diaz.
Each municipality has its own projects, and they need assistance in one way or another.
“Yes, [the county is] holding economic roundtables, but they are more like reports to the county. There’s no strategic vision.”
The county has the ability to bring not just financial resources but its political connections to these projects that would bolster economic growth, he said.
With the downturn in the natural gas industry, Garfield County can’t afford to rely solely on those companies anymore, Diaz said.
Eventually gas production will come back, but in the prosperous times when things are going great, people tend not to think about the need for economic diversity, he said.
“We have not been as aggressive as I think we can on making ourselves less reliant on that one industry.”
Diaz runs a consulting business and Align Multimedia now, and was executive director of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado from 2006 to 2010. He also was a business outreach and marketing representative for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs from 2003-05.
Diaz has been criticized for supporting a couple of failed tax initiatives: a mill levy override for the Re-2 school district and a sales tax for a Rifle recreation center. But he stands by those efforts and leaves open the window of pursuing future taxes for the right causes.
“I don’t want to do a tax increase. But if there’s a service that’s needed, and there’s no way to fund it … people need to step up and say that’s something I value.”
Politics have become so polarized against tax increases that if you even suggest putting something on the ballot you’re considered a big taxer and spender, Diaz said.
It requires leadership to get people to look at the big picture beyond individual tax questions. When businesses are considering moving to a place, they’re looking at what amenities the area has to offer employees, the quality of schools, what jobs are available for spouses and how local government supports the community.
Even if you don’t have any kids in that school district or you’re not the type of person who would use the recreation center, you’re going to benefit from the extra economic activity, the people and businesses drawn to the solid schools and the increase in your property values.
“And you’ll be able to keep your other municipal taxes low because sales tax will be up.”
Diaz said he wants to see more cooperation between the local governments and special districts, which have historically avoided supporting each other’s tax initiatives for fear they’ll damage their own tax initiative’s chances.
Concerning the perennial problem of affordable housing, Diaz says the municipalities need to take the lead by zoning in a way that encourages that kind of development.
But the county can act a leader by getting the right people in a room together and targeting builders that can deliver that kind of development, he said. And the commissioners can support the municipalities by providing a macro-level view of what’s happening in the housing market.
Diaz said he’s wary of employee housing, worrying about the effect of artificially keeping the market low for only a select group.
Ultimately it’s going to take the cities and towns taking a hard look at what they’ll allow, and that’ll probably mean they can’t continue the model of a single-family residence on a big lot, but higher-density rental units, he said.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat John Acha of New Castle, a former construction contractor in the U.S. Air Force and later with NATO, who for the last 17 years been running his own company, Action Estimating.
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